Quite a long time ago. when I was touring England by bicycle, my limited funds made this mode of travel affordable and so was staying in very inexpensive youth hostels. These were then simple accommodations where visitors for the most part did assigned chores, prepared their own meals and made their own beds in sex-segregated dormitories. One day, and to my delight, a hostel I was staying at was filled with boys aged approximately seven to eight. That evening as these kids were preparing for the night, some were already in their beds reading or quietly talking with their friends. Others were still getting ready for bed. It was a pleasant scene to behold - youngsters resting contently or peaceably engaged with each other.

At the time, I was not ready to turn in early along with these boys but was in the process of preparing my own bed before lights would shortly be turned off. As I was so engaged, I noticed one of the boys approaching a youngish man in whose charge the boy was. He was seeking permission for his friend to sleep with him. It appeared the friend had never before been away from home, the implied purpose being to be a comfort to his callow companion.

Even before a word came out of the adult's mouth, his body visibly tensed. The words "Absolutely not" immediately followed.

I'll never know what went through this guy's mind as he uttered his brusque refusal. Was it that he was horrified by the possibility of child sexual play as the actual motive, or was it discomfort at seeing boys being tender with each other? But the incident immediately brought back a decades old memory of a similar experience I had at about the age of the boys I had been observing.

It was in a children's sleep-away camp and, as in the hostel, my bed was in a dormitory of double bunk beds. For some reason, at some point, I was moved to a smaller room occupied by about four somewhat older boys. I was naturally flattered to be in such august company. That evening, one of the boys, uninvited by me, climbed into my bed. The feeling I experienced was one of warmth and tenderness as well as honor at being the focus of an older boy's attention.

At that moment, one of the young adult minders came in and immediately re-assigned me to a bed in the main dormitory, the excuse being that there had been too much noise.

What adults say and the underlying messages that their actions actually convey may not immediately be discernible to children, but over time they do intuit what the adult world forbids and what it permits.

There were surely other hints in my youth that telegraphed the notion that tenderness between boys was not acceptable.

One culminating, bittersweet memory does remain. It is of being in a high school classroom next to a boy I had known since junior high. Early adolescent years were filled with homoerotic tension among most boys I knew then, and the boy in question had left little doubt of his interest. Fear of ridicule had caused me not to believe what should have been obvious. On his part, perhaps he feared being more explicit when I did not overtly respond to his advances. In the class one day, our hands touched ever so slightly and remained so for a time. I was in heaven, but I dared not do more. Very shortly following what must have been the most subtle of gestures between us, the teacher, whom I liked and respected decided to re-arrange seating. It was his prerogative, and he did not give a reason other than a vague one of administrative convenience. There was no doubt in my own mind. He had been diplomatic, but the message had been clear.

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